Sushi to the Stars
By Terry Baxter
In a tradition stretching back decades, a past Masters Tournament champion hosts the annual Champions Dinner for all the past winners, a green jacket affair on the Tuesday before the tournament begins. On his first time as host in 1998, twenty one year old Tiger Woods served cheeseburgers, fries, and milk shakes. This year, as once again reigning champion, Woods’ tastes have matured. He wanted to include sushi and knew he needed the skills of top-notch talent to pull it off.
Woods enlisted Jim James, the Food and Beverage Director for the Augusta National Golf Club (glorious home of the Masters), to find the best way to bring sushi to this year’s tournament. James knew we had first-rate sushi at Ocean Reef. He asked his friend Giovanni Melis to show him our new sushi bar in the Islander. As soon as James tried Sushi Chef Eric Andreu’s Melanie Roll, he knew he had found the lead item for Tiger Woods’ Champions Dinner. Augusta National invited Eric to come up for a tasting presentation. Afterwards, the Club’s senior staff asked Eric if he would serve his creations for the Champions Dinner, but also help them establish a sushidining venue on the edge of the fourth hole for the duration of the tournament. The Springs is the crowd-pleasing result.
Eric’s colleagues at The Islander were all proud of their Chef. Erwin Pals, Ocean Reef’s VP of Food & Beverage, and the Club’s whole culinary team shared their excitement and blessed the plan. Pals told Eric, “This will be the experience of a lifetime – go for it!”
Golf champions from down the years attended the iconic dinner. Tiger Woods’ final menu was: “Augusta” roll, sushi with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, and secret sauce (does this sound familiar Melanie?). The next course was prime steak and chicken fajitas. Woods’ dinner finished with flan, churros, and sopaipillas to complete a sophisticated/casual international selection. Jim James told Eric the diners were raving about the sushi. The rest of the week was a parade of twelve-hour days introducing the Masters crowd to worldclass sushi at the Springs. Augusta National has asked Eric to recreate his magic for the tournament every year.
Bradley Petersen, the manager of The Islander, said, “At Augusta National they have to have a special event to get Chef Eric – we have him every week!” Erwin Pals said, “Chef Eric is the perfect example of the kind of culinary talent I found when I came to Ocean Reef: he has all the skill and creativity to produce excellent dishes in the back of the house, while he also has the confidence and personality to be on stage interacting with Members in the front of the house. This is an essential part of our unique character.”